Professional Learning Professionalism

Professional Paradigms at Dawn

I have read a couple of items recently that have really highlighted the presence of different views of what teachers and others in education professionalism is, at a fundamental level. This is a massively nuanced and complex issue, but I’m grappling with it, so here’s a go a breaking it down in a more (hopefully) straightforward way.

I think there’s a lot that is true in Anna Browning’s blog, and believe that it is likely to be the lived experience of many. Devolving ‘agency’ to achieve and demonstrate achievement of the meeting of national standards to individual schools or MATs has resulted in a great deal of performativity. If you worked on schools between 2010 and 2019, you’ll be familiar with all the hoops (demonstrate progression in 20 mins, anyone?). Then the pandemic… it’s not been great. All this checking, testing and measuring paints a picture of is a manifestation of a managerialist (professionalism = measuring things and meeting defined standards) approach to teacher practice. It sits in tension with other more traditional perceptions of professionalism, in which professionalism = experience and practical wisdom.

And then there’s this:

This feels like the frontline of the battle between the managerialist paradigm and democratic professionalism (making the profession open, clear and research engaged).

I believe that the testing and performativity are only part of the story here. As a profession (and I believe we should strive to embody the democratic vision of what this means), we must engage with high quality CPD. Better CPD might have raised the confidence of some of those over 50s teachers to become research informed experts. It might have raised their sense of agency, promoted their professional autonomy, and reduced their sense of (structurally created) isolation.

To see signs the managerialist paradigm so overtly in the tweet quoted above is a real worry, and something to be kept a close eye on.

See my previous posts for more details and citations on the readings that support these ideas:

Leadership and Culture

I’ve been reading (does listening on audiobook count?) this book, and it is fascinating. It is about businesses, but the analysis of leadership behaviours makes it it well worth a listen/read for those of us involved in leadership in the education sector. Here are my main takeaways from this book, and my reflections from my…

Culture Management Professionalism Leadership

Leadership and Culture

I’ve been reading (does listening on audiobook count?) this book, and it is fascinating.

It is about businesses, but the analysis of leadership behaviours makes it it well worth a listen/read for those of us involved in leadership in the education sector. Here are my main takeaways from this book, and my reflections from my wider reading on the implications of this for school cultures.

  1. Schein (2017) talks about the need to consider the types and degrees of relationship formality you want and the importance of developing, articulating and transmitting a strategic vision. You might decide that transactional formality or more interpersonal and friendly are most appropriate in your context. This may depend upon the size and maturity of the organisation. Schein describes ‘talk to the campfire’ meetings to break the ice and move to more productive and trusting working relationships.
  2. He goes on to describe the dynamics of organisational cultures. Often, sub-cultures are ‘nested’ within macro cultures. Sometimes, macro cultures compete with each other. This is relevant to education, where different paradigms of professionalism exist. Traditional (professionalism = experience) and democratic (professionalism = openness and research-informed expertise) paradigms exist alongside and in conflict with managerialist professionalism, which is promotes accountability and the measurement of metrics. For more discussion on paradigms of professionalism see Evans, 2008; Evans, 2011; Freidson, 2004 and Sachs, 2001.
  3. These paradigms are arguably incompatible: managerialist professionalism seeks efficiency whilst traditional and democratic professionalism depend on time to develop experience and nurture expertise. Sub and competing cultures can disrupt the realisation of the intended or planned vision for organisational culture. This is why the kinds of performativity that has been expressed in many schools has become so toxic (Ball, 2003; 2016); it is a battle between tight and loose ways of understanding teacher professionalism. If one way is right, it can feel that the other way is implied to be wrong.
  4. When professional identities are challenged, it feels personal. Resisting managerialism can become a moral purpose. Those ‘difficult’ teachers? They are defending the profession, as they understand it. Their cynicism comes from the burnout associated with the psychological unsustainability of the cognitive dissonance that arises from holding competing professional paradigms (Ball, 2008).
  5. Competing paradigms of professionalism influence school cultures as different (usually unspoken) assumptions about what it means to be a professional influence school policy and teacher values and practice. Initiatives which run contrary to one’s view of professionalism are often be resisted. People worry about the ubiquity of managerialism because of the possibility that new teachers entering the profession will not be in a position to know that there are alternatives to managerialism, and the debate will simply fade away (Buchanan, 2015; Mockler, 2011). Evans (2011) is more optimistic that ‘real’ teacher professionalism (the democratic, research-engaged kind) organically persists.
  6. It is not just the teachers who are caught up in unspoken assumptions about professionalism. Leaders may overtly express their cultural aims and expectations through establishing routines and behaviours that ought to produce more effective cultures. But, Schein (2017) argues, these only tend to succeed if their own unconscious assumptions about cultural behaviours align with these routines. For example, if a leader talks about openness and then shuts down dissenting voices, a culture confusion and contradictory behaviours results.
  7. If competing unstated and stated cultural assumptions and routines are not shared (even conflicts which are internal to the leader, i.e., stating that they welcome fresh ideas then acting autocratically), sub cultures will emerge. These disrupt the explicit aims of leaders (Schein, 2017).
  8. Leaders really need to examine what their underlying assumptions of cultural development are. Routines alone are only a partial solution and are vulnerable to competing underlying assumptions. I believe that understanding these processes and making the implicit explicit is essential to gaining the insight needed to make meaningful change.
  9. Deliberate and explicit laying of the groundwork for developing effective cultural conditions in schools is essential. Earley (2020) suggests that routines in leadership can be learned, but the best leaders are those who work on themselves, get coaches and engage in deep reflection. This may enable them to recognise and, thus, avoid transmitting their internal and perhaps contradictory cultural expectations.
  10. Korthagen (2017) makes a similar point about the need to support teachers to unpick their professional and cultural assumptions, too. Without understanding our underlying assumptions, it is very difficult to effect any change at all in individual behaviour or cultural norms.
  11. To draw Korthagen, Earley and Schein together, leaders and teachers should unpick their unconscious assumptions about professional and cultural values and understand them. They will transmit them whether they intend to or not. Better to understand them and mitigate the potential for unhelpful cultural clashes in order to set the stage for positive and productive change.


Ball, S. J. (2003). The Teacher’s Soul and the Terrors of Performativity. Journal of Education Policy, 18(2), 215–228.

Ball, S. J. (2008). Performativity, Privatisation, Professionals, and the State. In B. Cunningham (Ed.), Exploring Professionalism. Institute of Education, University of London.

Ball, S. J. (2016). Subjectivity as a Site of Struggle: Refusing Neoliberalism? British Journal of Sociology of Education, 37(8), 1129–1146.

Buchanan, R. (2015). Teacher Identity and Agency in an Era of Accountability. Teachers and Teaching, 21(6), 700–719.

Earley, P. (2020). Surviving, Thriving and Reviving in Leadership: The Personal and Professional Development Needs of Educational Leaders. Management in Education, 34(3), 117–121.

Evans, L. (2008). Professionalism, Professionality and the Development of Education Professionals. British Journal of Educational Studies, 56(1), 20–38.

Evans, L. (2011). The ‘shape’ of Teacher Professionalism in England: Professional Standards, Performance Management, Professional Development and the Changes Proposed in the 2010 White Paper. British Educational Research Journal, 37(5), 851–870.

Freidson, E. (2004). Professionalism: The third logic (reprint). Polity Press.

Korthagen, F. (2017). Inconvenient Truths About Teacher Learning: Towards Professional Development 3.0. Teachers and Teaching, 23(4), 387–405.

Mockler, N. (2011). Beyond ‘What Works’: Understanding Teacher Identity as a Practical and Political Tool. Teachers and Teaching, 17(5), 517–528.

Sachs, J. (2001). Teacher Professional Identity: Competing Discourses, Competing Outcomes. Journal of Education Policy, 16(2), 149–161.

Schein, E. H. (2017). Organizational Culture and Leadership (5th Edition). Wiley.

Professional Learning

What are mirrors for? Reflections on research into teacher professional learning.

I’m researching the relationships between school cultures and teacher professional development and learning. My interest in this area has evolved over time, but one particular incident stands out for me. I once sat through a talk by an inspirational speaker who had been brought in by my school to kick off the Spring term on a positive note. I was seething by the end. The speaker wasn’t the direct problem (I regularly listen to his podcasts), but the message, totally disconnected from the lived realities of my day-to-day experiences as a teacher, made my blood boil. How on earth could I implement the strategies that well funded, dedicated teams use? I can’t even go to the toilet when I want! My ears were beyond deaf to the message; I was in arms-folded, face like I was chewing on a wasp, defiant rejection mode. Funnily enough, I didn’t implement the suggested strategies.

CPD that just doesn’t ‘land’ can get to teachers like that. During the course of my research, I have collected many stories from a range of teachers who report similar experiences. They respond with defiance, anger, tears, disengagement and rejection. But here’s the thing; they also tell me how much they love to learn. They’re self-funding courses, attending conferences, signing up for MOOCs, listening to podcasts and reading books. Just because you reject a some CPD, you’re not rejecting professional development and learning. There’s something about the imposition of it, I think, and the root of it can (at least partially) be explained though teacher professional identities. Broadly speaking, we’re either traditional (experience = professionalism), managerial (measurement against standards = professionalism) or democratic (making professional activities open and explicit = professionalism) (Sachs, 2001). We’re also (again broadly) inclined to be restricted (experience, again), or extended (research engaged) (Evans, 2008) in our professional identities. If you’re ‘democratic’ and ‘extended’, you’re likely to be more open to new ideas than if you’re ‘traditional’ and ‘restricted’. If the latter, new interventions can feel like an attack on your professionalism. When you’re already time-poor and pressured, your best defence is rejection or, at a push, superficial compliance.

I wanted to find out more about what’s going on with teachers and their perceptions of CPD, and developed the survey instrument described in my Impact article (Taylor, 2023). If you use my survey (watch this space), it will give you a structured way to think more about your perceptions of the cultural conditions in your school. I hope that this will also help you to think a little bit more reflexively about your professional identity. What do you value? What makes you tick? What helps you to learn and develop, and what’s getting in the way? My data so far indicates that this is what teachers experience when they engage with the survey. But then comes the question, ‘what should I do about it?’

I’ve been thinking about what my research is for, what people think my culture insights survey is for, and what people think my survey should be for. When I explain how I designed it (I’m super proud of my methodology, but appreciate that that’s not for everyone), what people really want to know is what to do with the results. I’m not ready (qualified or experienced) to make claims about being a consultant or expert. This isn’t a positivist ‘if this, then that’ kind of logic. I think this can be a frustration to some people looking for solutions to problems. Instead, I have designed a kind of mirror. You can look into it and notice things about yourself and your organisation, but you’ll need to decide what your next steps are. Just like getting ready for your day, the mirror allows you to perceive how you look, but you’ve got to style your own hair.


Evans, L. (2008). Professionalism, Professionality and the Development of Education Professionals. British Journal of Educational Studies, 56(1), 20–38.

Sachs, J. (2001). Teacher Professional Identity: Competing Discourses, Competing Outcomes. Journal of Education Policy, 16(2), 149–161.

Taylor, K. (2023). Are We All on the Same Page with Professional Learning? Exploring the Relationship Between Organisational Cultures and Teacher Professional Learning in Secondary Schools. Impact, 17.